Eyeing Your Neighbor

Can we all agree that our culture is obsessed with the “stuff of life” rather than the living of it? It seems like, even to mention living life, requires the right set of stuff to do so, and if you don’t have that set, you’re not actually living to the fullest. That’s a generalization. Some are striving to simplify, but honestly, there’s a “market” for that as well (Google “simplify my life”, and hit the “Shopping” link in the results – it’s crazy).

The tenth law of the Decalogue is about “coveting”:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17 NASB

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? You shall not covet, how hard can it be? Yet, when your neighbor gets something new, or new to them, do you notice? Do you consider the cost, the potential for you to acquire the same thing or something even better? Maybe not. Perhaps you are more admiring of their ability, intelligence, or luck, perhaps? Coveting doesn’t have to be about noting their recent purchase of a rhinoceros, and thinking how you’ve always wanted one of those. Sometimes it’s that they could buy one, and you wouldn’t even know where to shop for an affordable puppy.

The process of comparing ourselves to others, and measuring ourselves by the standards of others, is common, constant, and exhausting. I’m tired just writing about it. The thing is, there’s more at stake than I think we realize.

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:5 NASB (emphasis mine)

It turns out that this law violates the first and second ones. What a horror to discover that these laws are interrelated! Oh wait. We sort of already knew that, or we should have. The greatest commandment isn’t even one of the Ten Commandments, and the second greatest isn’t either. The summary commands go together. Paul points out in the connection in Romans:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10 NASB

Jesus gave priority to the “Shema”, the call to Israel to listen and love God with their whole being. Yet Paul clarifies that the law is actually summarized in how we treat others, loving them as we love ourselves. How can he do that? How can he dodge loving our Creator with our entire being? He doesn’t. He has spent nearly 12 chapters pointing out that it is impossible to love others without loving Jesus with our whole being. He has pointed out that without the law we wouldn’t know sin, without the standard of our Creator there is no understanding of how much we need Him, and without Him there is no meeting the standard. Yet with Him all things are possible, including obedience.

When we covet, we live trapped in a belief that our Creator is not sufficient for us. When we do that, He is no longer our first love.

When we love others so freely we rejoice when they succeed, even in midst of our own defeat, we live out a belief that our Creator is wholly sufficient for everything we need. Believe first, the rest is the result of the belief. Believe that, and we will never covet, murder, steal, commit adultery or bring false testimony. It’s all connected.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Self and Love of Others

Loving God and loving others as yourself summarize the law and prophets. Jesus says so, a lot, or at least in three of the Gospels. So, how does loving our neighbor as ourselves correspond to laws 6 through 9 of the Ten Commandments?

“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:13-16 NASB

It may sound like it’s obvious, and perhaps it is. Think through what Jesus claims:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40 NASB

Or my favorite:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 NASB

The first three, possibly four, laws of the ten are about our devotion to our Creator and Savior. The rest are about how we treat others, “No murder, adultery, stealing, or lying in court.” So, how are these four laws summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself”? C.S. Lewis has a great examination of this summarized law of loving your neighbor. In Mere Christianity, he examines what he calls, “do as I would be done by”, or the Golden Rule of “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s derived from this law to love your neighbor as yourself.

I don’t want to plow his field again, he got it spot on. Instead, I want to bring out something he points out that I found very illuminating. He said:

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not always enjoy my own society. So apparently “Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I’m afraid I sometimes do (and these are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. It is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, pg 90, Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952 .

So, love of others isn’t predicated on particularly liking ourselves. Lewis goes on to point out that we care for ourselves even though we don’t like ourselves. And, in much the same way, we are supposed to love others regardless of whether we like them or not. We are to love them even if they are very nasty sorts of people, just as we are, occasionally. Yet, where’s the point of connection with these four laws?

“Don’t murder” might be the easiest one since we’re more likely to preserve our lives than to destroy ourselves. And, even in the case of suicide, there is often a selfish element (though, not always, and that is not a simple issue). But it is safe to say we are generally more likely to preserve our lives than destroy ourselves. So, the command not to murder fits, in fact, a case could be made that we are to save lives, moving from a prohibition to an encouragement.

“Don’t steal” may be more difficult to see in relation to how we treat or love ourselves. We don’t typically “steal” from ourselves. On the other hand, we tend to consider our “stuff” to be worth protecting, sort of like our lives. In fact, we tend to tie our “stuff” very closely to our “lives” (which is not a wonderful approach). In this way, caring for the stuff of others includes stealing it, but it also means carrying for anything of theirs in our possession.

“Don’t be an adulterer” actually fits well with “stealing”, just stealing another person’s spouse. On the other hand, adultery is often tied to selfishness. Desires are met without regard for the effects this will have on others. For many people, desires rule their actions, making whatever they want to do more valuable than relationships. But, if we seek the desires of others over ourselves, or consider the desires of others as we decide our own actions, then selfishness is less likely to drive us. We love as we love ourselves when we attempt to fulfill the desires of our spouse as we want to fulfill our own desires.

Finally, “Don’t lie in court” seeks honesty in legal dealings, perhaps in the city gate, but can also be business transactions. The idea here is that we, in such situations, would seek our best interests. So, in such situations, we should love others (i.e. treat others) as we desire to be treated, connecting this law very clearly to the Golden Rule. Which is true for all four of these laws. We love others as we love ourselves when we treat others as we would be treated. We want to be treated honestly when we deal with other in professional or legal settings? Then we should treat others honestly in professional and legal settings.

It really isn’t rocket surgery to figure out the connection between these four laws and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the application of it to our daily lives that we struggle with. It’s not always easy to think of others as more important to us than we are to ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It sounds easy, or simple, but the practice is so counter to our culture, our desires, and our natural selfishness that we often don’t even see what we’re missing. What is something you can do today that will break you out of your own selfishness? I’m going to do dishes, I think, maybe laundry? I don’t know, but something my spouse typically does.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Good Child

If you had siblings, then you probably have one who was the “good child”, the favorite. At least it seemed that way from your perspective. If you have more than one kid, you probably see better, but that’s not a given. I have only one, and my Master knew she was all we could handle. That’s a lot to wrap up into one kid, but she excels in living out a mixture of her mother and I.

But, is that what it means to “honor” your parents? Is it only living out the mixture of the two that makes up your “nature” part? I hope not. Unfortunately, there are so many who should never have had kids, never wanted them, and have taken little or no interest in them. For some parents, the kids are only a means to more government assistance. It’s sickening. And yet, this commandment isn’t conditional.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12 NASB

You would think that there would be something here about parenting. Shouldn’t there be? Yet, it all falls on the kids. Honor your parents. It isn’t until Paul that there’s more guidance for parents, “Don’t exasperate your children. As if that’s not going to happen.

It’s possible that our Creator acknowledges that parenting is hard. Regardless of the child, regardless of the circumstances, parenting is difficult. Parents know nothing about it until the first one comes along, and they simply do the best they can (or, are supposed to do the best they can). Children are to honor their parents for the difficult job they were given, regardless of how well the kids think they did it or not.

This law comes with a promise, or a “carrot” in a sense. As Paul points out in Ephesians 6:2,3, this is the first law with a promise. The promise is long life in the land of promise. Paul applies it to long life anywhere. The truth is that honoring parents, perhaps learning from them, does give one important life-lessons that will prolong life on this earth. It’s important.

But what about when the parents don’t parent, aren’t interested, leave their kids behind, abandon their responsibilities, and leave a trail of empty broken kids behind them? What about those parents? How can those children honor such parents?

I don’t know. I haven’t been there, experienced such parenting, or lived with such pain. I hope that, in such cases, living better, being a better parent, and rising above the pain is the honor due. In such cases, honor may need to live alongside pain, anger, and frustration.

Regardless of how good or bad a parent was, every child has to wrestle with forgiving them. It’s right, but more, it’s healthy for the child. It may make little or no difference to the parent, but it will free the child. Perhaps this is the most basic and important element in honoring parents.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Take A Break

The Sabbath is one commandment that is kind of “out of character” from the others. The ones before are about the priority of God in our lives. The ones following are about how we treat others. What is this one about?

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 NASB

There is clearly something about this practice that our Creator believes to be important. In fact, Yahweh says He did it. He created everything, and then rested. I doubt that He was tired. I doubt He needed some “ME time”, or to recharge, or whatever.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Isaiah 40:28 NASB

It seems that the Sabbath was not so God could rest up for His next big engagement. In fact Jesus says something rather remarkable about the Sabbath:

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 NASB (Emphasis mine)

According to Jesus, the Sabbath was created for the Creator’s human creatures, rather than the other way around. So, when our Maker rests on the seventh day, He does so for us, not for Himself. This became a marker, setting apart the Jews from the other peoples among whom they lived. And it became a source of ridicule, even nearly cost them their existence during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid rulers (see reference here).

So, the issue may have become more about being obviously Jewish, and less about sanctifying the day. Still, what was God’s point? Why did He sanctify the day in the first place? It wasn’t for Himself, it was for His creatures, but to what purpose?

I suspect that nothing sanctifies like the presence of our Creator and Savior. Whatever He touches becomes holy. Perhaps, because of this, this day is holy because it’s in contact with Him. And when we use a whole day a week to be with Him, that day is holy. In a sense, this law of the ten forms the pivot point where we move from them being about our Creator to being about the creatures. The Sabbath law connects the two sets through association of the two in relationship.

Do you use it that way? The whole day, is it devoted to your Savior? Would others observing your day claim that it is entirely devoted to time between you and your Creator? Is it truly “holy” in the sense that He has come into contact with it, and you? I doubt it. I find it nearly impossible to fill the day only with time with my Master. Perhaps you are more successful than I. If you are, that’s awesome, and I encourage you to keep doing it. If you don’t, if, like me, you struggle to get more than church attendance into it being about Jesus, then what can be done to change our attitude about it?

Perhaps time with my wife counts as I honor my Savior in my time with her. Maybe you have friends that get together after church for lunch or to spend the afternoon doing whatever. Can that time count as holy time? Has it come into contact with our Creator? I’m reminded that nowhere does it say that the Sabbath isn’t a corporate thing. Nothing says that it has to be practiced as individuals. In fact, isn’t going to church on the Sabbath a “group activity”? Why does the end of a church meeting mean the end of celebrating the Sabbath?

Perhaps, like Jesus says, we need to think of the Sabbath as something our Creator created for us. And, like everything else He created, He made it to draw us closer to Him. So, if that’s what this day is about for you, about enjoying all that your Savior is to you, and all those He has connected you with, then perhaps you are dedicating the whole day to Him. Let’s discover that line of peace and rest between legalistically requiring rigid limits to activities, and blatant treatment of the day as just another day off to play. Maybe we can keep it holy together.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Taking the “Lord’s name in vain” has been a strange “sin” for me, and, from what I can observe, for my culture and society at large. The commonality of calling on the Creator of the world to damn something or someone was astoundingly common in the ’80’s, and much less so in the ’90’s and early decade of the 21st Century. But, as the second decade comes to a close, embarking us on the third, it’s growing in popularity again.

Holy, versus common or profane use of God’s name, means to call on our Savior for something empty or without purpose. But it also means to use His name commonly. This is not to malign those with the Spanish/Hispanic name, Jesus; rather it could be argued that that naming your child this way is respectful, or at least, hopeful. I’m named for one of the disciples of Jesus, another common naming convention. But, when the name of my Savior is used as a common expletive, or even in some other form of a curse, then, perhaps, commonality and the profaning of what is holy has occurred.

Here’s the law as we have it in Exodus 20:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

Exodus 20:7 NASB

There is a clear, unambiguous, threat behind this law. Yahweh will not “hold blameless” the one using His name vainly. To make sure this is clear, let’s look at the word, “vain” and the phrase “hold blameless”.

The word commonly translated as “vain” is the Hebrew word, shav (Strong’s H7723), and is different from the common “vanity” term used in Ecclesiastes (Strong’s H1892). The term used here, in Exodus 20, is based on a Hebrew word for “desolation” or “ruin”. The term in Ecclesiastes is based on a word for emptiness or vapor/breath. The word used in Exodus is much more substantial than the word used Ecclesiastes. Using the name of our Creator in a way that causes or intends ruin, is what is in view here. While the “teacher” has a more empty sort of meaning in view in Ecclesiastes.

But what about “holding blameless”? What does that mean? Here, the Hebrew word is naqah (Strong’s H5352) which has a range of meaning from desolation to cleanness, has, as its core meaning, empty or poured out. By extension, it can mean “empty of guilt”, and is commonly used this way. That’s how it’s used here, and in this form, always has God as the subject; either He does or does not allow them to be empty of guilt. Here, clearly, God does not allow them to be empty of guilt. It might be analogous to the current slang term, “free-and-clear” in reference to a debt or legal charges.

I suppose that the real problem I have is how offended I should, or should not, be when I hear someone use the name of my Savior this way. It’s clear that my Master will not clear their guilt. So, do I need to heap on my own judgement and disdain as well? I certainly don’t like it. It immediately gets my attention, and not in a good way. But should I be “offended” on behalf of my Master? Should I let the ignorant blathering of those without knowledge of their Creator set me off track of the goal of my Master? Or is addressing this mistake on their part the real goal of my Master?

I don’t have an answer for this, so, perhaps this is a good place to invite comment with different perspectives. Is there a Scripture reference that addresses this issue, besides the “Decalogue”? What is your experience, and what is your interpretation?

I’ll leave it at that, and simply invite views through the fence.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

No Idol Threat

Paul points out, in Ephesians 6, that the command to honor your parents is the first command with a promise. It’s a promise of long life in the land of promise. In a way, the second commandment sounds like it comes with a threat. But buried in the threat is a promise:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6 NASB

The worship of Yahweh is unique in its absence of animal and human imagery. While the world around them had images worshiped in the form of mixed animals and human images, the Hebrews were to have none. This proved a difficult command for them. They couldn’t even follow it for the time Moses was on the mountain speaking with God. Even as a belief in some sort of spiritual deity is pervasive throughout human history and nearly every human culture, so is the imagery.

Knowing this, knowing how difficult it will be for them, God provides something about Himself to compel His people to obey. He is a jealous God. This word is an unfortunate choice of English words for this concept. It really is the best option, but only because we have so few. This word is only used in the Pentateuch, the first five books of Scripture (the Torah), and only six times total. It only ever is used of God, so using a common word referring to how people relate to one another has to be lacking.

Human jealousy is often selfish, self-seeking, perhaps by its very nature it can’t be defined any other way. This “jealousy” of God is different. It is a quality of those who are controlling, and, in the end, actually think very little of themselves. Some jealousy is based on violation of proper boundaries, and the priority of certain relationships. At its best, it’s still derived from self. The jealousy of God is a bit different.

Think of it this way, if you had a choice between a house overlooking mountains and the ocean, with amazing vista’s in every direction, or a house in a desert valley with the only constant being high winds, tumbleweeds, and the color brown, which would you choose? We tend to choose that which favors us, regardless of color or wind or vista. If the desert offers better work options, or we’re rock hounds, the it’s the desert for us, and we’re happy as clams. If we’re people who love views of mountains and the ocean, we would choose that. It’s whatever suits us.

God is the Creator of everything. All these other nations worship gods which He created. These gods are in rebellion against Him, they no longer honor Him, nor point to Him. And, I’m pretty sure they’re alive and well today, in our own culture. To choose them, even them along with God, is to choose His enemies. When our loved ones choose to befriend our enemies, we don’t like it. On the national level, we call it “treason”. On the religious level it’s called syncretism, and Paul spends much paper and ink writing against it.

The point is this, when we choose against God, we’re not choosing what is best for us. We may think we are, but we’ve chosen the enemies of our Creator, and have joined the rebellion against Him. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with us, and we rebel against Him? He offers us Himself, and we rebel against Him? Are you getting the picture? Is it ludicrous enough yet? It’s jealousy, and it is focused on God, but not like “one among equals” as it is with people. It’s the Creator of all things refusing to suffer the ignominy of fools.

And so He considers those following idols as “those hating Me.” And to be considered thus by the Creator is a poor place to put ourselves. And the consequence of such a choice falls on three generations. It is supposed to frighten, to shake us up, and cause us to consider whether we have any such imagery in our own lives? Do we? Is there something which captures our attention which we should give to our Savior? Do we even ask such questions?

But this jealousy isn’t the only characteristic which God describes of Himself. He does punish down to three generations of those He considers hating Him. But rewards thousands of those loving Him. It may be 3 generations of those hating Him, but that’s small compared to the love of God. This Creator may be offended by people choosing His rebellious creatures instead of Him, but He still loves those who choose Him. We can focus on this “jealousy” and miss the real point, His love. Even the jealousy is a loving response, forming a boundary to protect the people He has created, and, for some reason loves dearly.

The choice, and a choice to pursue with vigor, is to choose to put no thing in a competing priority with our Savior. No car, no house, no spouse, no child, no parent, no game, no TV, nothing on TV, nothing is as important as our Savior. Perhaps now is a good time to take inventory. Maybe you should look back at this entry for some “help”.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

None But One

“No other gods.” It sounds pretty basic, simple. what could go wrong? And yet, this command becomes the one that eventually destroys the nation of Israel.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
“You shall have no other gods before Me. “
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Exodus 20:2-6 NASB

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The first law of the “Ten” is that there are to be no other gods before Yahweh. Literally, this refers to other gods to/for Israel in Yahweh’s presence. Think about that for a second. No other gods in His presence; as in “before His face”. Have you, like me, misunderstood this commandment to mean “other gods besides our Creator and Savior”? And not “besides” as in physically beside, but as in having another god of any sort other than my Master.

Some, looking at this, are confused. What’s the difference? How is there truly any difference at all between having other gods of any sort, and having other gods in the presence of Yahweh? It has to do with worship. In a sense it is splitting hairs, but in another, it reveals something that we, in our modern sophisticated culture, take for granted. What if this means, for us, today, in our culture, that nothing is as important to us as Jesus?

Before you quickly dive in, and claim that nothing competes for your attention, let’s define the depths referred to:

  • Do you take time for Jesus daily? Not “Bible reading”, Jesus, prayer, Him
  • Do you participate in the church you attend, or just Sunday morning. And not your kids, your spouse, YOU. Do you actively participate in what happens at the church you associate with? Or do you not have time for that?
  • Have you even chosen a church? Or are all churches insufficient for you? Do their peculiarities, people, and positions keep you from committing to one?
  • Have you been baptized? And this means immersed publicly, and not as a child, but as a believer, as part of your commitment to follow Jesus.
  • Would you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, or do you believe that term is for fanatics? Do you consider yourself a “follower” or “believer” instead?

The more “no’s” you have to those questions, the more likely you are to be living in violation of the first commandment. Whatever competes for your attention and keeps you from time with Jesus, participating in His congregation, following His command to be baptized, and devoting yourself as His disciple; whatever that thing or those things are, they have become “other gods in His presence”.

Suddenly this entry becomes a call to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and many may be offended (John 6). I’m not sure, but that might be a good thing. My hope is that this may prompt anyone reading to reevaluate how devoted they are to our Savior, Jesus. I realize from writing that I’ve been holding back from my church, and I see how wrong that is. I feel it, viscerally. And I’m not okay with it. Which may be what’s driving this, I’m projecting. Even so, I suspect I’m not the only one who needs to hear this message, and obey this law of my Master.